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EMBO J. 1996 Mar 15;15(6):1421-33.

Defining the enzyme binding domain of a ribonuclease III processing signal. Ethylation interference and hydroxyl radical footprinting using catalytically inactive RNase III mutants.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.


Ethylation interference and hydroxyl radical footprinting were used to identify substrate ribose-phosphate backbone sites that interact with the Escherichia coli RNA processing enzyme, ribonuclease III. Two RNase III mutants were employed, which bind substrate in vitro similarly as wild-type enzyme, but lack detectable phosphodiesterase activity. Specifically, altering glutamic acid at position 117 to lysine or alanine uncouples substrate binding from cleavage. The two substrates examined are based on the bacteriophage T7 R1.1 RNase III processing signal. One substrate, R1.1 RNA, undergoes accurate single cleavage at the canonical site, while a close variant, R1.1[WC-L] RNA, undergoes coordinate double cleavage. The interference and footprinting patterns for each substrate (i) overlap, (ii) exhibit symmetry and (iii) extend approximately one helical turn in each direction from the RNase III cleavage sites. Divalent metal ions (Mg2+, Ca2+) significantly enhance substrate binding, and confer stronger protection from hydroxyl radicals, but do not significantly affect the interference pattern. The footprinting and interference patterns indicate that (i) RNase III contacts the sugar-phosphate backbone; (ii) the RNase III-substrate interaction spans two turns of the A-form helix; and (iii) divalent metal ion does not play an essential role in binding specificity. These results rationalize the conserved two-turn helix motif seen in most RNase III processing signals, and which is necessary for optimal processing reactivity. In addition, the specific differences in the footprint and interference patterns of the two substrates suggest why RNase III catalyzes the coordinate double cleavage of R1.1[WC-L] RNA, and dsRNA in general, while catalyzing only single cleavage of R1.1 RNA and related substrates in which the scissle bond is within an asymmetric internal loop.

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